Thesis

Harnessing nostalgia : what is Kansei?

In the next installment of my thesis, I look into what exactly is a Kansei theory of emotional design.

Kansei design methodology grounds itself in the assumption that successful design fulfils the emotional needs of the user, as well as the practical needs, by eliciting and responding to their emotions and impressions. When attempting to integrate kansei methodology into a design project, the logical question becomes, which emotion should the project attempt to invoke in the user?

My thesis proposed that using nostalgia to provoke that emotion adds a layer of complexity and authenticity to the relationship between the user and the object. The user is not only imagining how their life may be improved by this object, but also how this object fits in to their own living history and memory, and how they may create new memories with this object.

Starting with an investigation into a family archive through photographs and oral history, this project used visual analysis, reflection, and memory to inform the design process. A large focus of this project became clothing of family members, both handmade and purchased. Handmade clothing can carry far greater significance than shop-bought clothing, because of the direct connection to the maker that can be seen and felt through the clothes. The term ‘handmade clothing’ instantly conveys the impression that the item of clothing was made by one family member for another – consequently, family bonds are reinforced through the creation of clothing, and identity is constructed as family members go out in the world dressed in clothing made, shared, and passed down amongst themselves. The making process can also be a strong generator of connection with clothing, stemming from a desire to disconnect with the online world, and a nostalgia for a time when we worked more with our hands (Twigger-Holroyd, 2017).

At the same time, industry considerations remain primary in the project brief. Using handmade clothing to influence design may still lead to similarly successful connection between consumers and their clothing, even if it is shop-bought. Rather, generating connection with a garment through triggering nostalgia may become even more of a priority in this case, as the garment does not have the inherent connection-encouraging property of being handmade.

As one goal of this project was to create and reinforce intergenerational connection within families through clothing, it follows that the collection would integrate designs for children and adults. This necessitates an exploration of the child as both a social actor and a consumer. The agency of the child and the role that clothing has played in determining this was an important consideration during research.

The aim of this project is to develop a design methodology that incorporates nostalgic influences and encourages the remembrance of nostalgic experiences. Instead of merely following a trend for heritage design and nostalgia marketing, it is instead proposed that such a methodology can elevate the potential of nostalgia to form bonds between people and their clothing, their families, and their personal identity expression.

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